Thursday, June 16, 2011

Digestive Discrimination: Don't be Rude. Get with the Program!

Seven years ago, I was diagnosed with food allergies, including gluten and dairy, which I call "the big ones." At the time, I was a dedicated sandwich eater—Dedicated. I was also heavily involved in the food community as a server, and as the girlfriend of an up-and-coming celebrity chef. 

Suddenly, I felt like an outsider. To put it lightly, many people went out of their way to make me feel that way. I experienced strong digestive discrimination from friends, relatives, and strangers at restaurants, social gatherings, and dinner parties. I even received threats from chefs and owners of restaurants, who thought I shouldn't be working in in the industry if I couldn't eat their food. 

Now that so many people are being diagnosed with gluten intolerance and Celiac disease, I am considered a valuable member of the food industry. I am able guide people around menus, and I can teach chefs and bakers about the differences between glutenous and non-glutenous grains. 

Digestive discrimination has lightened over the last year or so, but it is still a problem that needs to be educated out of our society. 

Only a few days ago, the burger featured above got me into an argument with a random patron at a McMenamins pub in North Portland. The guy must have noticed that I had brought my own bread into the restaurant. I'm sure that, to any other patron, I must look extremely particular bringing in my own bread. But that's my business, and if the guy had been listening, he would have heard me tell the waiter that I couldn't eat gluten. Anyway, I overheard him making fun of me from across the room when I started taking pictures of my food. And you know, the boisterous laughs from his friends that quickly followed grated against my already sensitive digestive system. 

I told the guy that he didn't need to be a jerk. Red faced, he said he was just joking. None of his companions turned to look at me. I told him to joke more quietly next time. So he did, and his companions laughed even louder at my expense. I looked directly at their table, but not one of them had the courage to look at me. 

If you know anything about the passive-aggressive nature of Portlanders, you know how unexpected my reaction was. Not even a minute later, the guy was suddenly interested in an evening walk.  Before I put my camera away, he and his friends left without another look in my direction.

I'm sure that many of you have experienced digestive discrimination since your diagnosis. But be strong. We deserve to eat out just like everyone else. And here's an encouraging thought: people who have discriminated against me, have later come to me for help (or at the very least, for support) after they were diagnosed with food allergies. I was nice enough to embrace them, even after they were rude to me. This blog isn't called Eating Friendly for nothing! 

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